Friday, February 24, 2006

Ten years of IU's VARIATIONS

After the opening session, we had a coffee break. It is nice to be surrounded by my colleagues in this grand hotel, the Peabody Memphis. The number of past and present students, graduates, and staff from Indiana is astounding. (Although we have a sizable contingent from the Library of Congress).

I attended the Information Sharing Subcommittee business meeting where we talked about next year's programs and ways to collaborate with other groups.

Phil Ponella's talk on the development of VARIATIONS was also illuminating. While a student at Indiana, I was privvy to using the system and reading much of the associated literature. Now that I understand metadata and networked audio better, I have a much greater appreciation of what Indiana has accomplished over the last ten years. Ponella began his talk with a video showing an Italian man talking about how he gained his music degree on the Internet from Indiana, and that he did it from his home in Italy because they had digitized all of their scores and recordings. While far from true, it was a funny and prescient look at what is hoped to be accomplished. Phil brought us our reality check of how far VARIATIONS has actually come--which is still quite considerable.

I was most impressed to learn to the extent to which pedagogical tools have been developed for the VARIATIONS (currently VARIATIONS 3) system.

Some of these include:
1) Bookmarks (within audio)
2) Visual Analysis
3) Playlists
4) Score Annotations
5) "Drop the needle" tests
6) Synchronization of audio with scrolling score pages
7) Access control (by means of authentication)
8) Compatibility with Macs.

He talked about the history of the project, a little bit about the technology used, and where the third version of VARIATIONS is going. They are going to be developed a system that can be adopted by other educational institutions. Some of their current test bed partners include New England Conservatory, Ohio State University, and the Tri-College Consortium. They are also partnering with content providers, such as the record label New World Records (who has the Database of Recorded American Music). I think this is a wise move, because projects of this scale need partners of various sizes to create systems that work beyond the developing institution.


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